On the day I celebrated 33 years since I first picked up a pen as a professional – I found out the office where I wrote my first word as a journalist had closed. Shut down in one of these cost cutting exercises that rarely make sense to journalists, nor the readers they serve.
The news of the town where I grew up, Kidderminster, in Worcestershire, will now be reported on from somewhere else. No more will pensioners be able walk down and buy a copy of their newspaper nor give a news tip over the counter. The offices of the Kidderminster Shuttle and Stourport Courier in Blackwell Street are closed forever and I was sadder than I thought to hear that. Ok, this maybe just another office with its fixtures and fittings, but it was where I felt the first flush of youthful joy for the job that I am still doing, right now, after hours in the depths of a cold African winter.
Blackwell Street wasn’t just a place out of the rain, for us journalists, it was a rickety rundown office full of laughter, wit and fun. Where we would churn out the chronicles of the town where most of us had been born and bred; where we tapped out the weddings and the obituaries that marked the passage of time along with the court cases, council meetings and football matches that were our staple. This was where we shared sandwiches, brewed tea, argued issues and created a little bit of word magic every week – rain or shine.
It was so long ago that my first editor, the late Ted Millward, had been old enough to have fought the Germans in World War Two. He often used to regale us with the story of how he had met a young German on patrol late in the war and they both turned tail and ran.
“If I ever find that German I’ll kick his arse!” the chief photographer used to say to the editor at the end of bitter arguments over expenses claim.
Balckwell Street was also the place took on the first vestiges of social poise, as I become more confident in my work and ambitious for the future.
“This is Blackwell Street, not Fleet Street,” the photographers used to bring me down to earth with.
It didn’t bring me down to earth. I lived out my dream of travelling all continents of the world and asking questions of the powerful and wise – rarely both at the same time!
I am not sentimental about buildings. But I am sad that nearly all of the newsrooms where I laboured are either demolished or converted turned into places that belie the fact that once they were a crucible of the free word.
So farewell, Victoria Passage, Blackwell Street, Priestgate and Harmsworth House: may you all rest in peace and be haunted by cackling souls of the fine, hard-working writers who once made your names.
BY: CHRIS BISHOP